What a gorgeous day! I’m going to do this today!
No, you’re not.
Sure I am! Look, it’s gorgeous! Let’s go!
Nope. Sit down.
Not a chance! It’s gorgeous! There is no WAY I’m missing this today! I’m all excited! Come on, let’s go!
I said SIT. DOWN.
No. I’m doing this.
I said SIT. THE FUCK. DOWN. NOW.
No, you jerk, I’m doing this!
No, you’re not.
Yes, I am!
You think so.
I KNOW so! I’m going out right now.
I say you’re sitting down. Now SIT.
Fuck you. I’m going outside. I hate when my brain does this. It’s MY brain, and YOU don’t control it. I’m going outside. Right now.
Listen, I know you THINK you’re in control here, but it’s my job to protect you. Your brain? YOUR brain? I OWN your brain. I’m doing my job. I’m protecting you. So sit down.
PROTECT me?! You’re trying to ruin my life! What the hell do you have to protect me from? Protect me, are you kidding?
Protect you from EVERYTHING, you idiot! Look out there!
What are you TALKING about, it’s gorgeous out there! I’m going out.
No, “going out there” is the LAST thing you’re going to do. Try it. I will take you down.
Look, you don’t have to do this. I know what I’m doing. It’s a gorgeous day, and if I can just get out there, we will BOTH enjoy it. I swear to you. It’s good for me. It’s good for us. We have to. It’ll feel great. Trust me.
TRUST you?! Trust YOU?! You’ve been fighting me ever since I showed up! I have an answer for ever single one of those things you’ve gathered in that cute little bag of tricks you use against me. I WILL. WIN this. You know what I’m capable of. What’ll it be today? Nausea? Stomach cramps? Migraine? Fatigue? Maybe I won’t let you leave the bathroom. Maybe I’ll make it so you CAN’T get up, how ’bout that? Maybe I’ll just stir the ol’ gray matter and make it so you CAN’T make a decision and put us both in danger. Did I stutter? I don’t think I did. I said SIT. DOWN.
No. I’m going outside, and you can stop trying to wreck it. You did that yesterday.
And I can do it again tomorrow. Your choice. You put us in danger every time you pick up a pen, open your laptop, do housework, or yard work, or fix things, write, go among people… You know how this works. You go out there, you WILL pay.
Kiss my ass. I’m going outside. You can stay here and pout all day if you want to.
Fine. Have it your way. Go outside. Take pictures of rainbows all you want. Talk to people. Go shopping. Cut grass. Just remember — I’m in here. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll shut up long enough for you to prove to both of us that I’m right. Then the hammer comes down. So go out there. Enjoy. Bitch. I OWN you. And I always will.
And so it goes, and so it goes, and so it goes. Understanding it and how it works and what it does is a mixed blessing. Understanding it and how it works and what it does doesn’t make it go away. Meds can help a symptom or two, but can come with side effects that create other problems.
The bag of tricks can include a plethora of techniques to calm it or reset the gears, but it fights like a beast against every single one of them, especially when something pokes it, and you might never know what that is or what it will be or what it was. There are days you have to sit down and figure out — was it a smell in the grocery store? Was it a song on the radio? Was it someone’s voice you overheard without noticing? Sometimes you can’t figure it out because it was just a random threat of a threat that the brain threw out because it was tired of coating the grain of sand with protective goo.
You can function in a stilted, disjointed way, like a faltering machine that needs a tune up. You can go for moments, or days, maybe even sometimes a week or two and forget it’s always there, lurking in the background, waiting for a misstep, waiting for a trigger, then bam — game over — for days, or weeks, or months, depending on how much healing and recovery has been happening over time.
It sounds horrible to say, but you come to understand how some people who haven’t been able to make it that far in recovery can take themselves out of the picture, because no matter how much recovery or healing has taken place, it’s like living with a third arm that has a mind of its own and does a brilliant job of ensuring it’s always in the way, always making trouble, always making things difficult that used to be easy.
The salt in the wound are the well-meaning others, who compare your injury to theirs or someone else’s, to “just be positive!” or “just live without fear!” or “just think about it differently!” It doesn’t work like that. There is no “just” about PTSD. NO ONE “wants” this. NO ONE “enjoys” this. It is a vicious, hateful roommate that comes with caveats and deep pitfalls and strews tacks on the floor every day. It blasts an abrasive cacophony 24/7. It doesn’t matter how the injury arrived. It’s here for the people who have it, and with slight variations, the tacks and cacophony are identical.
The beauty of it in the moments it’s quiet is that it can demonstrate how incredibly complex and fragile and strong neurology is. In those moments of quiet, we who have it can embrace and cherish things we took for granted before. Some things — many things — are incomprehensibly difficult and terrifying when they never used to be. I am loathe to indict anyone who doesn’t have it for misunderstanding when we complain, or can’t do something, or try again — and again — and again — to help them comprehend why it is like it is for us (now).
And I am personally grateful for the people who do get it, are supportive, and reach out — because reaching out for us is almost impossible, if we can do it at all. Because living with this is a bitch.